What creatives and content creators can learn from programmers

It seems on a first glance that the world of coding and programming and the world of content creators or creatives are far apart.

For people outside of both worlds, “creative people” is somewhat spontaneous, prone to improvisation. Programmers and engineers are structured, organized, maybe even dull. That’s the stereotype. The clichè.

The truth is that there’s a lot more than meets the eye in both cases.

In order for creativity to be rich, and to create quality content, content that has some depth, there are lots of information and assets to manage. So creatives and content creators are also, in a way, content managers.

Both creatives and programmers deal with abstractions. They both design devices that have a purpose. The first ones usually design narrative devices, to inform, or to bring up an emotion on the user viewer. The second logical devices to bring value to the user.

The more technology moves forward, the more these two realms get closer. The digital age and the computing power of all the devices around us empower creators to give viewers a bigger role, a less passive one. They can now interact, and alter the content they are experiencing. Programmers also must think about the users journey, that resembles a lot to the hero’s journey, compiled by Campbell a long time ago.

Ok got it, but what can we learn?

The first step to grow in complexity and in quality in both realms is to create and have a common language to deal with these abstractions. To be both creative and functional, you must articulate many different structures. You also must exchange, create and combine assets. These assets must be reached, understood and modified by very different people.

Thats how standards are born. It is interesting to notice though, that even when both creatives and programmers create content and code for others, they themselves have problems to agree on a common language or method.

From these two, coders have a strategical advantage. While dealing with logic, they are forced to work with programming languages. They are forced to make sense. The more specific and technical the task become, the more standardized it gets. The language it is the very tool to perform the tasks, after all. But the higher up they go in the abstractions, the more undefined the language becomes. There has been very different attempts to overcome this problem, and one of the most effective solutions that I came to knowledge is the C4 model for visualising software architecture.

Information architecture. The C4 model

The C4 model is a bottom up effort to push the order that programming requires into the process thought of the big picture. This way, the road to a common language is paved. It is an ongoing process, but it is going in the right direction.

I works as a map, with 4 different scales: Context, Containers, Components, Code.

With this approach, the technical and the creative side are always connected.

This standardisation also turns helpful when dealing with clients, who are completely outside of the whole process. As a matter of fact, the biggest challenge of a software house usually is helping clients to write their brief. In other words, translate their needs and wishes into a solution, in the shape of an abstraction that eventually becomes a tool.

And how’s the situation in the creative world?

The creative world struggles more in the road to standardisation. Each creative has its own method, and there’s standardisation only among the big players. It is hard to find two people that name their files the same way in the same sector. The exchange of assets becomes chaotic this way, and collaboration with other sectors, vendors, and partners becomes cumbersome.

This lack of a standard makes also difficult that bottom-up evolution to a common language. When working with clients, creatives need to help with the brief, but they also need to exchange information, assets, and feedback with them.

Without a common language, collaboration becomes also an interpretation task.

There are thousands of anecdotes from creatives receiving cryptic feedback. There are even funny sketches around, with phrases like “make the square less square”, or “make it pop”.

Regarding names, who didn’t get a document called “Brief final_ok_ok_last_ok_definitive“? This time bleeding is penalizing, it slows down meaningful conversations, it’s an anchor when needing to create complexity and therefor, quality content.

Is it really necessary to overcome this?

It is a valid question. After all, it’s only a name. “It’s just a minute”.

Well yes. It is just a minute. But in an attention economy, a minute is worth a lot. We hardly can keep up with our own train of thought. And a lot of desciphering becomes lots of minutes. Hour, and days of your lives that we strive away from quality content, and also productivity.

There’s also another problem. If the higher thinking and the execution thinking are decoupled, the product quality stagnate. Ideas should feedback on technologic solutions and capabilities.

In advertising for example, if a Creative Director don’t know certain tools and solutions, it won’t pitch them. If clients cannot visualise them, or understand them, they won’t pick them. So advertising itself becomes conservative, and afraid of innovation.

If you move up in the creative ladder, you will find that once you overcome the communication gap, and you set a framework to develop ideas, the true creativity starts.

My favourite example is the Nolan brothers, and specifically Christopher Nolan. Here’s a video of him explaining his thought process while writing Memento.

Nolan building Memento

Nolan is the perfect example of what can be achieved when you combine art and technology. When you can zoom in and out of abstractions, and go from the higher thinking to the execution side.

In the last years I’ve become passionate about workflows, and this gap. I truly think that the limit between programming and content creation is narrowing, and there’s a lot to learn from programmers. Creatives and content creators shouldn’t be afraid of workflows and methods. They should embrace them as tools. That’s why we started to build our own tools, and particularly instruments to help other creators to standardize their workflows, earning more time for more creative tasks than simple data wrangling and reorganization. Both the creators and the viewers deserve it.

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